Menners couldn't boast a single matchbox sold to Longren, who bought all his household supplies in the city. Longren also did all the housework himself, patiently mastering the complicated art of raising a girl. He watched her sweet face with a smile that grew increasingly tender, as Assol sat in her father's lap, labored over the secrets of his buttoned up vest, and sang the ribald sailors' ditties. In her childish voice, and not always with all the consonants, those bawdy songs resembled a dancing bear, decorated with a blue ribbon bows.

In the spring when Assol turned five, a shadow of a sinister incident fell on her father; it brushed over the daughter too.

The spring that year was early but harsh. Sharp and piercing northern wind swept the chilly land for three weeks. Beached by the storm, the dark hulls of the fishermen's boats littered the white sand like humongous fish. Nobody dared to sail in such foul weather. Freezing gales from the hills blasted the emptiness of the horizon, banishing the people from the cold torture outside, so the only street of the village was deserted, whereas all the chimneys of Kaperna smoked from dawn to dusk, scattering the puffs of smoke over the steep roofs.

The stormy days lured Longren out of his small, warm house more often than the golden quilt of light the sun tossed over Kaperna in clear weather. He would walk to the end of the long wooden pier and stand there quietly, nursing his pipe and watching the restless sea, murky under the gray foam. Like fantastic monsters, huge rumbling swells shot skyward, rushing towards the distant tempest, filling the air with their black manes and savage despair. Howling water and almost tangible gusts of wind that lashed across the shore numbed Longren's misery, transforming his all-consuming grief into vague sadness.

On one of those days, Menners's twelve-year-old son Hin told his father that their boat was tied under the pier and pummeled against the beams: the innkeeper had forgotten to beach it before the storm. Menners rushed to the pier: he had to get the boat ashore before the storm reduced it to splinters. Ignoring Longren on the pier, Menners jumped into his boat and untied the rope, grasping at the supporting piles of the pier to pull himself and the boat towards land. Suddenly, a blast of wind tore his hands open and threw the small craft into the maelstrom. Seething waves hungrily snatched at it, hauling the boat to the open sea. By the time Menners realized what was happening, it was already too late. He couldn't even abandon his vessel to swim ashore. Strong wind had already pulled him too far away from the beach. The boat spun like crazy near the end of the pier, where churning water promised instant death to anyone.

Longren could save him; less than two-dozen-meters separated them, and a coil of a coarse sailing rope hang in a pole beside him, just for such occasions.

"Longren!" Menners yelled, terrified. "Don't stand like a tree stump! Throw the rope."

Longren didn't move. He even removed his pipe out of his mouth to see better.

"Longren!" Menners howled in desperation. "I'm dying. Save me!"

Longren seemed not to hear. Menners wailed in panic, begged for help, promised money, and cursed, but Longren only stepped closer to the edge of the pier to keep the jumping boat in sight. Finally, when the boat was so far away that Menners's last call reached the shore almost inaudible, Longren inhaled deeply, so not a syllable would be lost to the wind.

"She asked for your help!" he shouted. "Think about it while you live, Menners! Do not forget!"

The innkeeper's screams dissolved into silence.

When Assol woke up late that night, she saw her father sitting in front of the hearth, staring at its dying flames in deep contemplation. "Father?" she called.

He tiptoed to her side, kissed her, and tucked her in. "Sleep, darling. It's early yet."

"What are you doing, father?"

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